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Gov. Ricketts, Health and Human Services Highlight Child Welfare Task Force Goals, Initial Successes

Media Contacts:  

Taylor Gage, Governor’s Office, 402-471-1970

Jennifer Brantley, Children & Family Service, 402-471-8287




The child welfare task force meets on a weekly basis to review progress toward goals.


LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) highlighted the initial work of an interagency child welfare task force.  The task force, formed by Governor Pete Ricketts in February of this year, was created to address a significant increase in the number of children coming into our state’s child welfare system and work with DHHS to further ensure the safety, permanency, and well-being of Nebraska’s children.  It includes subject matter experts from state government, non-profit and private sectors, and national experts in child welfare system best practices.


“In my State of the State address this year, I recommended a significant increase in funding for child welfare and announced the formation of a task force to address the increase in children entering the system.  Working together, the Legislature and I approved new money to serve these kids,” said Governor Ricketts.  “Bringing subject matter and operations expertise together is inspiring solutions that will help our child welfare system deliver better outcomes for our kids and make the system more efficient and effective overall.”


“From establishing a new central registry to working with the Inspector General to investigate reports of abuse, child welfare has seen a lot of important change over the past year,” said Dr. Courtney Phillips, CEO of DHHS.  “Our whole team is stepping up to the plate, and their endeavors and collaboration with the task force is a testament to their dedication to the children in our care.”


The State’s Center of Operational Excellence (COE) Deputy Director Don Arp, Jr. is leading the child welfare task force, which has been meeting on a weekly basis since February.


“We are using our process improvement system, as developed by the COE, as a backbone to drive a full-spectrum change management effort,” said Deputy Director Arp.  “In its first months, the task force has been focused on improving daily operations.  This work is setting the division up for success with its largest changes to come, which we expect to center around the intake assessment process.  Research is underway on different best practices that will be used to make modifications to the intake process.”


To date, the task force has conducted an in-depth assessment of the practices and policies currently used by DHHS’s Division of Children and Family Services (CFS) to assess and investigate claims of child abuse and maltreatment.  Based on the assessment, the team has established four goals: Reduce reentry into the system, reduce time in system, increase reunification rates, and reduce caseworker turnover.  The assessment also culminated in a plan based on the goals to promote the safety and security of children at risk of abuse or neglect by:


  • Coordinating Referrals: Coordinate referrals for service to other, related services.
  • Intake Process: Improve the overall quality, scope, and timeliness of the intake process and services provided or supported by CFS.
  • Timely Assessment: Accelerate timely risk assessment when reports of child abuse are received through the Hotline.
  • Workforce Development: Focus on the child welfare workforce through pointed recruitment, training, caseload distribution, and the retention of well-qualified child welfare team members.


The task force has also established three core components to help the team achieve their goals, and several initiatives have been launched around each component.  The areas of focus are:


  • Process Improvement: Improvements to policies and processes from intakes and initial assessments to referral and service authorization, and community education.
  • Information Systems and Technology: This includes changes to systems, hardware, and online accessibility.
  • Services and Matrix: Incorporation of a utilization management team, system of care efforts, and a statewide community support professional.


In the months since its creation, the task force has laid the groundwork for success by:


  • Team Communication: Improving communication lines between frontline staff and management.
  • Visual Measures: Including implementing visual management boards on caseload progress and instituting regular management walks through work areas to gain feedback from staff and prioritize issue resolution.
  • Extended Office Hours: Projects exploring staff partnering and shift coverage to extend office hours show early signs of success.


Other teams have completed work on improving processes in regards to the intake assessment, service authorizations, subsidies, and overpayment investigations, and additional projects underway include: Identifying best practice process enhancements; developing an updated caseload calculation method; reviewing and updating policies; creating a user-friendly policy and form library; and exploring further enhancements to the intake assessment process.


CFS Division Director Matthew Wallen thanked the team for the strides already made and the changes to come, noting that the projects undertaken are “helping us deliver a higher level of service, and setting us up for achieving our goals of reducing out-of-home placements and increasing reunifications.”


Additional updates about the child welfare task force’s work will be shared in the coming months.